Annual Leave

Our time in the United States is just about over. On Tuesday, June 14 we head back to Sierra Leone to again take up our work there. To be frank it has not been much of a vacation in the usual sense of the word, as we have crisscrossed the country doing presentations, meeting with potential donors and volunteers and doing everything we can to tell the incredible story of the Adventist Health System in Sierra Leone.

OK, please give a proud dad a little slack.  We came back for Lindsay's graduation from Southern Adventist University.

OK, please give a proud dad a little slack. We came back for Lindsay’s graduation from Southern Adventist University.

Jon and Lindsay love their mom.

Jon and Lindsay love their mom.

And God has blessed our efforts. Thanks to Adventist Health International (AHI), Brothers Brother Foundation, and Healey Foundation we have a new OR table, suction machines and cautery on a container headed to Freetown. Thanks to donors we have not one, but two operating headlights to use until we get the overhead lights repaired or replaced. We have leads on a refurbished affordable autoclave, we have two anesthesia providers who have committed to coming in the next 8 months to do teaching, and a chaplain who is coming this winter as well. We have hospitals, clinics, and churches who are considering partnering (read adopting) us. I just heard that one of the medical school classes at Loma Linda University is considering taking us on a project.

So it has been busy, but there is still much to be done, please pray that God will give us grace, wisdom and strength to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

So Lindsay, at the last minute, got me to teach her classes for her.  She learned how to put on PPE, from Sierra Leone.

So Lindsay, at the last minute, got me to teach her classes for her. She learned how to put on PPE, from Sierra Leone.

Bekki and I in our Africa duds with Lindsay in her PPE.

Bekki and I in our Africa duds with Lindsay in her PPE.

On our blog page we added a “Projects” page to keep you updated on the status of the various projects we are working on at the hospital. We also added a “How to Donate” page to give simple, clear instructions on how followers can help out financially. We updated the pictures, and are currently sharing a series of posts sharing the story of Ebola and health care in Sierra Leone.

Bekki and I have been convinced of the new reality that is life in the digital age, and the age of social media. So in addition to our blog we have a Facebook page for Waterloo Adventist Hospital, you can follow us on twitter, and Instagram.

To follow us on Facebook type “Waterloo Adventist Hospital” in the search line, then “like” us when the page comes up. There are two Facebook pages, one is Waterloo Adventist Hospital, run by us. The other is Adventist Health System – Waterloo Hospital and it is run by our administrator, Mr. Joseph Fobbie, it is also a great page to follow.

To follow us on Instagram look for us as “scottnbekki” or “Scott N Bekki Gardner

To follow us on Twitter we are @ahswaterloo60 or Scott Gardner.

If you like our posts, pictures, or stories, please repost, retweet, share with your friends. We want the world to know about Sierra Leone, and the remarkable people who live and work at the Adventist Health System in that beautiful tropical country.

Bekki and I in the Smokies outside of Asheville, North Carolina with the McDowells.  Mason is coming, YEA, to teach anesthesia.

Bekki and I in the Smokies outside of Asheville, North Carolina with the McDowells. Mason is coming, YEA, to teach anesthesia.

For those of you who are new to our blog please look around at the other pages, the “About” page tells a bit of who we are and our background, the “Definitions” page explains some terms that are used that some of you may not be familiar with, such as GC or AHI. The “Timeline” gives an idea of where we will be throughout the year. On the “Videos” page watch a real Ebola survivor, Dalton Kabia, tell his story. Watch our community health officer explain why the staff agreed to work in the Ebola Red Zone even after they lost 2 staff members to Ebola. There is also the Surgical Pictures Page, but be forewarned, it has some very graphic pictures, so if you don’t like blood and guts, stay away from that page. On the Projects and Donations pages you can find the projects we are working on and how to donate to the project that touches your heart. Finally, if you like our blog and want to receive each new post directly to your e-mail, please sign up with your e-mail in the subscribe box. It doesn’t cost anything, there is no commitment, it just makes it easier to follow us.

We welcome volunteers.

-Scott Gardner

Advertisements

Call to Action-an Ebola Story

During the spring and early summer of 2014 the Ebola Virus was steadily tightening its grip on the country of Sierra Leone. Stories and rumors flowed throughout the country. Health Centers and Hospitals were closing as medical staffs were either decimated by the virus or fled in terror. Patients with other diseases such as malaria, typhoid, appendicitis, or complications of pregnancy often had no place to go. Chaos in the country was rising as the government and international aid workers struggled to cope with the crisis with a limited healthcare infrastructure.

In the midst of this crisis was a small 20 bed hospital staffed by 38 employees with vision and dreams. They called their hospital, Adventist Health System, Waterloo Hospital, Sierra Leone. The name reflected the commitment this group had to take the Adventist health message throughout their country. Although they only had one facility at the time but they had plans. Plans to expand, to have clinics and other small hospitals serving the people of Sierra Leone and bringing to their countrymen the good news of Jesus Christ.

But for now they had a more urgent matter to contend with. Should they stay open and risk their lives and the lives of their families, or should they take the easy, safe route and do as many of their colleagues throughout the country had done and close the hospital. This was a decision for the entire staff, not just the leadership. And so the entire hospital staff came together. Prayerfully they considered the options, considered the consequences. They thought about the fact that if they died from Ebola they would be of no use to anyone. They considered their families, their community, and their duty towards God.

Throughout the country are billboards giving out Ebola information

Throughout the country are billboards giving out Ebola information

The staff clearly understood the risk they would be taking. They knew that the early stages of Ebola had the same symptoms as Malaria and Typhoid, common diseases in West Africa. Hence without specialized testing, which was not widely available, it was impossible to separate the early cases of Ebola from the other diseases. They could be exposed and not even know it. Although they did not know that a single drop of blood could contain 10 billion copies of the virus, and that it only took 1-10 copies to infect a new victim, they did know that it was incredibly contagious. They knew that in their villages whole families were being wiped out.

In the end they answered the call to action, they could not escape their commitment to be “Medical Missionaries”. The commitment that has been a part of the SDA health work in Sierra Leone since their forbearers took over the leprosy hospital in Masanga. This group could never abandon their heritage, and so they made a conscious decision to keep the doors of their hospital open as long as God allowed. They would serve their community, they would serve their country.

It was not long after this that disaster struck. A new patient arrived at the hospital. He had all the symptoms typical of Malaria and Typhoid Fever, common diseases in this part of West Africa. His blood was drawn and tested positive for both. He was immediately started on intravenous treatment.

In those early days it was not uncommon for people who had been exposed to Ebola to escape from quarantine. They were often not provided with access to enough food and water during quarantine and so they would break out in search of the most basic staples of life.

The following day the District Health Medical Team (DHMT) Ebola Surveillance Officers visited the hospital looking for just such a fugitive. They recognized the patient who had been admitted the day before with Malaria and typhoid as the man they were searching for. The patient was taken from Waterloo Hospital directly to the diagnostic center in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. When it was confirmed that he was positive the government came back to the hospital to close it down. The entire staff had been exposed, they and the entire hospital must be quarantined.

The surveillance team together with government soldiers came with automatic weapons circled the hospital ensuring that no one escaped. The staff were able to call their families to bring food and clothes and other necessities. For 25 days they lived in the small 1 acre hospital compound, sleeping two to a bed. They lived with the knowledge they could be the next victims. They lived with the knowledge that at that time nearly 100% of Ebola victims died a horrific death.

Then they started to hear that the Community of Waterloo was outraged. Not against the government for quarantining the hospital. No, they were angry with the hospital staff for staying open.

There were cries of, “Why did you stay open, now you have brought Ebola to Waterloo, you have doomed us all.”
For a group already facing an uncertain future the guilt and hurt brought on by these accusations was almost too much to bear. Then the administrator of the hospital, Mr. Joseph Fobbie, called into the local radio station and addressed the community.

“Dear friends,” he said, “We stayed open for you, to take care of you, to treat your diseases. We are the ones who were exposed, we are the ones who must bear the consequences, not you. We took the risk so we could serve you.”
The appeal had the desired effect. The people in Waterloo saw the folly of their fear and anger. They rallied around the hospital, they began to bring food and blankets to the inmates of the quarantine. In fact, the support was so strong and the food so good that the soldiers did not want to leave after the quarantine ended. They said they had never eaten so well!

Inside the hospital all was not well. The medical director, Dr. David Koroma had instituted a twice daily temperature check. It was during these checks that three staff members developed fevers, two nurses and the lab tech who had drawn the blood from man who contaminated them. Dr. Koroma cried as he called the government health officers to report the new cases of suspected Ebola. Many more tears were shed when the staff bid good-bye to their friends as they were taken to the diagnostic center in Freetown where it was confirmed, all three had Ebola.

The three were then transferred to the treatment center in Kenema where the two nurses died from the disease. Dalton Kabbia, the lab tech survived by God’s grace. He continues to work at Waterloo Hospital and he shared his story of suffering as he watched those around him die. The day he was told that his colleague, Millicent, had died, he saw at least 20 bodies in the ETC (Ebola Treatment Center). He was sure this was the end, but each day he did his best to eat, and to keep his eyes on Jesus. Slowly he improved until he was ready for discharge.
As the quarantine ended for the employees of Waterloo Hospital they heard the fate of their friends. This staff of 38 had lost two of their number, and only God’s hand prevented that number from being higher.

Ebola Survivor Dalton Kabbia today.  Go to the "Videos" page to hear him tell the story of his journey through Ebola.

Ebola Survivor Dalton Kabbia today. Go to the “Videos” page to hear him tell the story of his journey through Ebola.

The government health officers came to Mr. Fobbie and Dr. Koroma and informed them that the government was taking over the facility to turn it into an ETC. They asked the staff to stay on and work at the new Center.
Now they faced another life or death decision. They were being asked to work in the “Red Zone”, directly caring for known Ebola patients. They knew that the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was not a 100% effective. They knew of health workers who had contracted Ebola even while following all the protocols. They had already lost 2 of their friends, would they risk their lives again?

It was a difficult decision. They were under tremendous pressure from their families to just say “No”. They were afraid.

Only 12 years before the 10 year long rebel war in Sierra Leone had ended. And the staff considered this history. They realized that they were in a war, this time against an invisible microbe instead of rebels. And the war had to be fought with syringes and IV’s instead of with guns. They recognized that in war soldiers die, and this time the soldiers were the health care workers. This was real, two of their friends had already made the ultimate sacrifice.

For the second time in just a few months the staff at Waterloo Hospital answered a call to action, they made a conscious decision to put their lives on the line to serve their country and their God, to fulfill their destiny as medical missionaries.

One of the staff in her ebola PPE (Personal Protective Equiment)

One of the staff in her ebola PPE (Personal Protective Equiment)

They were taken to the national stadium where they underwent an intensive 3 day training course in Ebola protocols. On December 17, 2014 Waterloo Hospital opened as a 60 bed ETC with a staff of over 200. Over the next few months the battle waged against the tiny virus that had invaded their country, but slowly, bit by bit, it was defeated. The last case of Ebola in Sierra Leone was diagnosed in January, 2016.

When the Waterloo ETC closed they celebrated the fact that they were the only ETC in the country to not have one staff member contract Ebola. But they recognized that God had shed His grace on them, because even the most diligent were not completely safe.

A grim reminder of the reality of Ebola

A grim reminder of the reality of Ebola

Adventist Health System, Waterloo Hospital, Sierra Leone re-opened on November 9, 2015 as a general hospital, this time with 22 beds and 36 staff. The health system still only has one facility, but they retain their vision to transform the physical, social, spiritual, and mental well-being of people in Sierra Leone through the Adventist Health System. They have plans to open their first satellite clinic in Bo, the second largest city in Sierra Leone by the end of 2016. They have been asked to manage a clinic in a new village being built by a British NGO, Home Leone for the habitants of the slums in Freetown. They have selected land throughout the country where they intend to put other clinics.

Handwashing stations like this are throughout the country.

Handwashing stations like this are throughout the country.

You can teach an old dog new tricks!

You can teach an old dog new tricks!

It is a privilege and very humbling for Bekki and I to work side by side with these incredible, faith driven warriors for God as we together fulfill our mission to demonstrate the healthcare ministry of Jesus Christ in Sierra Leone.

For those of you who are new to our blog please look around at the other pages, the “About” page tells a bit of who we are and our background, the “Definitions” page explains some terms that are used that some of you may not be familiar with, such as GC or AHI. The “Timeline” gives an idea of where we will be throughout the year. On the “Videos” page watch a real Ebola survivor, Dalton Kabia, tell his story. Watch our community health officer explain why the staff agreed to work in the Ebola Red Zone even after they lost 2 staff members to Ebola. There is also the Surgical Pictures Page, but be forewarned, it has some very graphic pictures, so if you don’t like blood and guts, stay away from that page. On the Projects and Donations pages you can find the projects we are working on and how to donate to the project that touches your heart. Finally, if you like our blog and want to receive each new post directly to your e-mail, please sign up with your e-mail in the subscribe box. It doesn’t cost anything, there is no commitment, it just makes it easier to follow us.

We welcome volunteers.

-Scott Gardner

RACHEL

The first thing Rachel noticed was that she was cold. She lives in Sierra Leone which is tropical and it is never this cold. Rachel had just seen her mother and two of her sisters die from a horrible disease. They were fine and healthy and then just a few days later dead. Her country was in the midst of an outbreak of Ebola, a horrible hemorrhagic virus that is highly contagious and deadly. Victims literally bleed to death. Rachel was 6 years old.

Rachel quickly worsened, and just a couple of days after first becoming ill she was unconscious. Sierra Leone by this time had established Ebola Treatment Centers (ETC) around the country, and when a new case was suspected, special ambulances were dispatched to pick up the patient and transport them to the nearest ETC. For some reason known only to God, the ambulance passed many ETC’s and brought Rachel to Waterloo Adventist Hospital (WAH), 50 kilometers away. Because Ebola is so contagious her family was not allowed to come with her.

This happened toward the end of the crisis, so by this time all the Ebola victims at WAH had either died or been discharged. And so it was that Rachel was gently placed on a bed in the “Red Zone” of the hospital, the only patient there.

All ETC’s were divided into “Green” and “Red” Zones. Green zones were “safe”, there were to be no Ebola patients in this area, the patients were all confined to the “Red Zone”.

Because she was unconscious she could not eat or drink so she was given fluids through her vein and started on antibiotics to treat the secondary infections that often come with a viral infection.

To care for Rachel, James Abu the treating provider, would have to enter the Red Zone wearing his Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), a heavy thick rubber and plastic suit that covered every square millimeter of his body to protect him against any chance of coming in contact with the deadly virus. It only takes one to ten viruses to start an infection and most patients had a viral load of millions in each drop of blood. The staff had to limit their time in the Red Zone to 2 hours simply due to dehydration issues, they would sweat so much in their suits that the large plastic boots they wore would be full of sweat by the time they removed them.

For two days, each time he checked on Rachel, she was in her bed, unconscious. He made sure she was receiving her medication, that she was kept hydrated and turned. The staff at the hospital were determined to do all that was possible to save this last little victim. And they diligently prayed for her, asking for God’s healing power, as they did for all their patients. His heart ached to see this little one so ill. The only good thing was that she was asleep and no longer suffering.

On the third day after a two hour break Mr. Abu painstakingly donned his PPE and returned to the Red Zone to check on his little charge. Her bed was empty! Mr. Abu searched the ward, no Rachel, he called for her, he looked under the beds, he looked in the closets and cupboards. He went outside the ward and looked along the fence and toward the gate. Rachel was nowhere to be found. He could not figure out where the unconscious little girl had gone. Had her family found out where she was and come and taken her? Had she died and someone else had taken the body? Where was his patient?

So he searched again, looking in every nook and cranny, every ward every corner. Finally he found her sound asleep, half on and half off another bed in the central receiving hall of the hospital. She had come out of her coma and had walked through the hospital, all alone, until she had gotten tired and tried to crawl up onto the bed where she fell asleep. Can you imagine what went through this little girl’s mind when she woke up. She had passed into unconsciousness at home, and now she woke up in a strange, huge building with lots of empty rooms and empty beds, and not another living soul. When she woke again it was to the sight of a creature from outer space, covered from head to toe, definitely not human. James was finally able to calm the frightened little girl with a favorite canned drink he had saved for himself, and she drifted off to sleep again.

James Abu in his PPE

James Abu in his PPE

Although she was still very ill, this little girl was not one to give up easily. She battled bravely on for 3 weeks and was finally discharged and reunited with father, all that was left of her family, alive and healthy. The prayers of James Abu and the staff at Waterloo Adventist Hospital were answered.

Rachel with her father and James Abu (James is on the left)

Rachel with her father and James Abu (James is on the left)

Ebola will be with us until Jesus comes, and it will continue to spring up from time to time and place to place in West Africa. By God’s grace Sierra Leone will not have to endure another epidemic as they did in 2014-5, but the scars of Ebola are ever present. The mental scars of those who were ill and survived and of those who lost many members of their families to the awful disease continue to haunt them. The survivors suffer from guilt because they survived and others did not. They returned home to stigmatization, shunned by family, friends, and co-workers who were afraid of them, and sometimes angry with them. The epidemic affected the country in other ways, it devastated the economy, hurting industry, mining, tourism, causing unemployment, inflation, and increasing poverty in an already poor nation.

Although Ebola is no respecter of age, it is often the children who suffer the most, they are most vulnerable and many either died or were left as orphans. Sierra Leoneans are a resilient, optimistic group of people but it will continue to take outside help for years to come as this country seeks to rebuild.

For those of you who are new to our blog please look around at the other pages, the “About” page tells a bit of who we are and our background, the “Definitions” page explains some terms that are used that some of you may not be familiar with, such as GC or AHI. The “Timeline” gives an idea of where we will be throughout the year, and the “Video” page has a video Bekki made of Koza Hospital as well as the videos she has made of Moundou, and now we are adding videos of Sierra Leone. Watch a real Ebola survivor tell his story. Watch our community health officer explain why the staff agreed to work in the Ebola Red Zone even after they lost 2 staff members to Ebola. There is also the Surgical Pictures Page, but be forewarned, it has some very graphic pictures, so if you don’t like blood and guts, stay away from that page. On the Projects and Donations pages you can find the projects we are working on and how to donate to the project that touches your heart. Finally, if you like our blog and want to receive each new post directly to your e-mail, please sign up with your e-mail in the subscribe box. It doesn’t cost anything, there is no commitment, it just makes it easier to follow us.

We welcome volunteers.

-Scott Gardner